"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Imagineering Oversight....or is it?

Before our trip to Disney, I bought an Imagineering Field Guide for each of the four Florida parks. I love these books, they are small, but packed with really interesting information about the thought processes that went into building the Disney theme parks. The books are written by Walt Disney Imagineering (it gives author credit to "The Imagineers" right on the cover) and are full of drawings and photos and inside info on the little details they work into everything they do. For a Disney Geek, these things are Nirvana.

One of the central themes of these books is the continuity they try to keep in place within and even between the parks. They work hard to make sure you aren't jarred by something "out of place." They went so far as to make the top of the Tower of Terror ride's architecture look vaguely Middle Eastern because it was visible from Morroco in Epcot's World Showcase. They even do things that I'm convinced are for their own amusement, such as locating all the bathrooms in Columbia Harbour House, which straddles Fantasyland and Liberty Square, in the Fantasyland half because there was no indoor plumbing in the time period represented by Liberty Square. Their efforts aren't always so grand or so obscure, mostly they just use architecture and landscaping to obscure views of things that don't fit in with the story they are trying to tell in a particular place.

I think I found a pretty good example of where they failed to hide the bleed-over from over stories with this picture.

This is a view of Space Mountain and the entrance to Tomorrowland as seen from the Swiss Family Treehouse, complete with old-timey gas light. I thought at first I had "caught" the Imagineers falling down on the job, how hard would it be to have a wall here and face the opening a different direction? But after thinking about it, I think I've underestimated the Disney crew.

Walt Disney's spirit is alive and well among the Imagineers; just look at the whole of Walt DisneyWorld, built entirely after Walt's death, for proof. Walt Disney was a man of seeming contradiction, but in actuality he was very wise. He was nostalgic to an amazing degree, recreating the world as it was in his time and before in his theme parks. He loved the past and studied history and longed to see the world hold onto the best parts of our heritage. He was also one of the world's greatest all-time Futurists. Walt believed in that "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and he worked hard to see mankind progress as far and as fast as possible. He was the best kind of idealist, the kind of man who sees a wonderful future as possible and tries to make it so. He had one foot in the past and one in the future, but he lived in the now, taking the best of history to inform his attempts to build a great tomorrow. In order to think and act like this, Walt Disney needed to be always ready to act today, to "carpe diem," to make the most of the moment no matter what the naysayers said or what was generally assumed to be possible. But he also had to have an appreciation of the fact that the future would always be there, that what we do today never stays as it is, but changes over time. He understood that he needed to not only prepare for this fact, but take advantage of it. When Walt built Disneyland, he commented that the park would never be the same, that it would grow and change and become more beautiful as the trees he planted before opening day grew over time.

It's this spirit that I think the Imagineers understood and I at first did not when they built the Swiss Family Treehouse with a view of Tomorrowland. To face the view away from the park would give guests a sight "behind the scenes" and into an area of concrete and parking lots and warehouses and sheds. Not very magical. To face the room towards the park in another direction would guarantee that some sort of "intrusion" into the story would always be there. Look again at that picture and I think you'll see the Imagineers took the best possible route. The view of Space Mountain is partially hidden by trees. I bet that when this treehouse was first constructed, much more of the park was visible. I also bet that within about ten years, as those trees grow even taller, that view of Tomorrowland will no longer exist. I think that was the idea all along. It took me a while, but I finally did step outside the box and look with eyes to the past, present and future. That's what Walt did all the time, as a matter of course. I want to get to the point where I do that as well.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, I like your "long look forward" take on this view and how Imagineering thinks and plans. It reminds of a story about there was forest grown in England over 500 years ago because they foresaw a time when they would need to replace some of the huge, old-growth timbers used in the royal palaces. (These were eventually used for such repairs late in the last century).
    But can I offer an alternative Walt-ish explanation? Since Walt did so very much have a foot in both the past and future, couldn't this have been a deliberate placement? While the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is overtly rustic and "period", think about the technological amenties built into it - runnning water, an Elevator (I think) and an organ - as well as things I've forgotten. The Robinson's were a pretty forward thinking bunch and Tomorrowland might be exactly the thing they would see on the horizon.